Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Parental control tools need to be more effective for today's and tomorrow's internet

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Results from a study just released by the European Commission show that parental control tools tested have become more effective at blocking adult content and other harmful content since the first tests conducted last year. However the tools are less efficient at filtering content related to racism and self-harm (sites promoting anorexia, suicide or self-mutilation). In general, the tools cannot filter all the different kinds of user generated content on the internet – while they can block access to things like social networks and streaming services, only very few tools are able to filter contacts in applications such as Skype and MSN.
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The Commission is committed to helping parents and their children keep safe online as part of the objectives set by the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200) to enhance trust in the internet. In the coming months the Commission will introduce a communication that will set up a European strategy to make the internet a better place for children and that will include both empowering and protective measures.  

The study analysed 25 parental control tools for PCs, 3 for games consoles and 2 for mobile phones.

Parental control tools for PCs are normally easy to install, however tests found that customizing them is not easy. For example differentiating settings for users of different ages, are in general poor. Most of the tools provide parents with a good range of functionalities to customise web content filtering such as choice of topics and/or URLs to be blocked, the use of black lists and white lists.

The game consoles tested have their own embedded parental control tool which can control chat, online gaming and content downloading/purchasing, but none of the game consoles' parental controls are able to filter web pages according to content.

There are only a few products available for filtering web content accessed via mobile phones or game consoles, even if one child out of four in Europe goes online using a mobile phone.

English is still the most common language for the parental control tools, while the choice of tools for other languages is limited. And the tools' functionality effectiveness is better in English than in other languages.

A database where parents can search for the parental control tools that are best suited to their needs is available at www.yprt.eu/sip.

Background

The "Benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" project has been funded by the EU's Safer Internet Programme since 2006.

The tests reported on were carried out between April and June 2011.

The tools tested in this study were analysed with settings for two age groups: 12 year olds and younger and 13+ year old in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.

The tools were tested according to 4 criteria:

1) Functionality: is the tool compatible with the operating systems (e.g. Windows, Linux, Mac OS)? Can it filter web content according to keywords, topics, URLs? Can it block or monitor access to the internet, e-mails, chats, instant messaging tools?

2) Security: Can the tool be easily disabled or by-passed by technology-savvy youngsters?

3) Effectiveness: Can the tool block websites with unsuitable material for children or can these sites still be accessed (underblocking)? Does it also block non-harmful content (overblocking)? Is it available in languages users are confident with? Can it properly filter blogs, forums and social networking sites?

4) Usability: Can both beginners and advanced users install the tool on their computer? Is the installation process too complex? Is it easy for the parent and child to understand when a website was blocked?
Under the Safer Internet Programme of the EU, the Commission will continue to fund a review and monitor progress of parental control tools every 6 months until the end of 2012.

The full report on "Benchmarking of parental control tools for the online protection of children" is available online.

Safer Internet Programme

Safer Internet Forum